Mage's Fire

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Two: Nadia

The house was dark when I came home. I frowned as I parked the Beast in the driveway, reaching into my jacket pocket for my switchblade. Ever since Dominic bit me, I carried a weapon of some kind with me. My favorite was my Bowie knife. Unfortunately, it was too big to carry with me on a regular basis, and with the weather clearing up, I couldn’t exactly walk into school with a huge jungle knife strapped to my belt.

I let the door to the Beast creak open, slowly stepping out as I drew my switchblade. I held it loosely out in front of me, ready to attack or defend myself at a moment’s notice.

I crept up to the front door of my house, my knife held in one hand, my kubaton keychain in the other. Jack, a hunter friend of mine, had started training me specifically in the weapon, claiming it was the best self-defense weapon on the planet. I had never needed to use it before, or my switchblade, for that matter. Still, having them at hand made me feel better. Like I was more in control, like I could defend myself if it came to it.

I reached a hand out to the front door when I neared. It was locked. I frowned up at the dark windows, utterly confused. Where was Dad? He said that he would be here when I got home…

I had just reached for the door again to unlock it when lights at my back startled me. I yelped, spinning around to hold my knife out in front of me. I was temporarily blinded by bright headlights in the driveway, then they cut off and I saw the faint outline of my dad’s police cruiser.

I smiled in joy and hurried back down the steps, stuffing my kubaton and switchblade back into my pockets. The doors opened, and I threw myself into the arms of the old woman stepping out of the passenger seat.

She grunted as I threw my arms around her, burying my face in her hair. She chuckled and pulled me close, sighing as she breathed in my scent.

“Hello, Nadia,” my grandmother murmured, her voice laced with a Scottish accent. I sighed and inhaled her sweet, buttery scent, similar to that of warm croissants fresh out of the oven. She let out an mm sound and let go, holding me at arm’s length to get a good look at me. I smiled up at her, noting that she had more gray streaks in her braid than she had last summer when I saw her. The dark blue, nearly purple irises nearly glowed in the dark, and her olive-toned skin was dark in the night.

“Hi, Gramma,” I said, hugging her again. She laughed and then sighed, letting me melt into her arms. After a moment, she rubbed my back and arms, then pulled away to smile at me.

“Let’s go inside, hmm?” she asked, gesturing to the house. I nodded eagerly, smiling as she draped an arm over my shoulder.

“I’ll be right behind you!” Dad called as he went around to the back door of his cruiser. “I’ll just get your things for you, Mom.”

Gramma nodded and smiled back at Dad. “Yes,” she said, then laughed as she stepped through the front door with me.

“So, Gramma,” I started, moving away from her as we headed into the kitchen. I pulled the pitcher of sweet tea from the fridge, pouring a glass for both of us. “How long are you here for?”

Gramma lowered herself gracefully onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar. She thanked me as I set the cup of tea in front of her, then after taking a sip, she said, “Oh, I don’t know this time.”

I frowned, leaning against the counter in front of her. “What do you mean?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I suppose it depends on how things go here,” she said, giving me a strange look. She had her head tilted to the side, her gaze thoughtful. I fidgeted under her stare, listening as my dad came in and out with her luggage.

“Things are going well,” I said.

She nodded once, slowly. “I’m sure they are,” she murmured.

Before either of us could say anything else, Dad finally closed the door behind him and called out, “Nadia! Come here, I have something for you.”

I gave Gramma a quizzical look. She only shrugged, but I could see the smug smile on her face as I hurried out of the kitchen.

I frowned as I approached my father. He was grinning widely, holding his arms close to his body. His jacket looked… fuller than it had a few moments before. My frown deepened and I narrowed my eyes, crossing my arms as I stared up at him.

He smiled, trying to appear innocent. Just then, there was a whimpering sound, and his jacket moved. My eyes widened and I flicked them up to give him a strange look. He laughed nervously and said, “One of the dogs at the station was pregnant,” he said. “And, well… We can’t take on any more K-9’s at the moment, so we decided to give away all of the puppies in the litter, but I thought…”

He opened his jacket, pulling out a dark, tiny ball of fur. The three month old puppy whimpered, its ears flat against its head and its tail tucked between its legs. I gasped and lunged forward, scooping the puppy into my own arms as he said, “I thought you’d like one of them for yourself.”

Dad smiled as I stroked the puppy’s ears, murmuring and speaking to it in a baby voice. “Oh, who’s such a beautiful baby? Huh? You are! Yes, you are!”

I kissed the top of the puppy’s head, giggling when it whimpered and turned its head to lick the side of my face. I drew my head back, wiping my cheek on the shoulder of my shirt. I looked up at my dad, smiling as I said, “It’s beautiful! What’s its name?”

“He doesn’t have a name yet,” Dad said. “I was going to let you choose one for him.”

I smiled down at the puppy again, rubbing its ears between my fingers. “Is he a Belgian Malinois?” I asked. German shepherds and Belgian Malinois were two similar breeds, but a Malinois was smaller and faster than a German shepherd. For as long as I could remember, I had always wanted a Malinois. I think seeing my dad and the other officers at the station working with them was what got me thinking about having my own.

Dad nodded. “Yes,” he said. “So? What are you going to name him?”

I pursed my lips, staring at the puppy as he panted happily. He nestled in my arms comfortably, his tail hanging out and wagging furiously. He did that puppy whine-growl as he rolled his head back to look at me, his pink tongue flicking out to lick my chin briefly. He stared up at me with his big, dark brown eyes, as if to say, Well, boss? What’ll it be?

I smiled. “Delta,” I said. “His name is Delta.” When I said his name, Delta stopped panting and cocked his head curiously, his huge ears pricked forward.

Dad smiled. “All right, then,” he said. “Delta it is.” He looked over at Gramma and said, “Nadia, why don’t you take Delta up and show him where he’s going to be living? I need to talk to your grandmother about something…”

I looked back and forth between them, frowning. There was a strange tension between the two of them, something that had never been there before.

“Okay,” I said cautiously, half backing away as I disappeared down the hall. I turned and hurried up the stairs, holding Delta close to my chest. I made my way to the door of my bedroom, sighing as I opened it and stepped inside.

As soon as I shut the door behind me, I set Delta on the floor. He immediately started sniffing around, his neck stretching out as he held his tail between his legs. I watched him for a few moments, smiling as he moved from one corner of my room to the other. When he reached my bed and finished sniffing along the bottom, he reared up and put his front paws up on the side. I moved over, picking him up and setting him on the bed. He sniffed around for a few more minutes before settling himself on the corner of the bed, ears pricked forward and tail wagging furiously.

I laughed. “What do you think, Delta?” I asked as I settled myself on the side of the bed beside him. I rubbed my side, right where Dominic had bitten me. I winced and shoved the memories away, shutting my eyes against the thought of flashing fangs.

Delta barked once, rolling over onto his back to expose his belly. I laughed and rubbed it furiously for a moment before I pulled him onto my lap. I took my phone out of my pocket, turning on the front-facing camera. I snapped a selfie on Snapchat, with me smiling and hiding behind Delta’s dark brown body. After a few taps on my phone, I sent it to Riley with the following message, Look what Dad got for me today!

As soon as I sent the message, I heard raised voices. I frowned, looking to my door. After a moment, I stood up, bringing Delta with me to the door. I slowly opened it, being careful of the moments when it creaked. The voices rose in volume as I approached the railing overlooking the staircase. Out of habit, I lowered myself onto my belly, setting Delta on the floor beside me. I gave him a firm look, pointing my finger as I whispered, “Now, stay.”

He sniffed my finger, licked it, then lowered himself onto his belly as well, ears pricked forward. He tilted his head, and I smiled, glad to know that he was a smart puppy. Then I turned my attention to the argument, curious as to why my father and grandmother were fighting. They had never raised their voices with one another.

“…still haven’t told her!” Gramma was exclaiming. Her accent was thicker as she yelled, making it somewhat difficult to understand her.

“What do you want me to do?” Dad exclaimed. “Huh? Do you expect me to just tell her?”

“Yes!” Gramma shrieked. “She has power, and it’s only growing. The protections I’ve placed on her won’t last for much longer.”

“I’ve spent the past twelve years keeping everything from her,” Dad said, his voice becoming softer with each word. “I can’t stand the thought of this killing her.”

I frowned. Killing me? What the hell was going on? I brought my phone up, pulling up Riley’s contact bubble. I typed out a brief message: Dude, I gotta talk to you.

Nothing. I checked my Snapchat, and I saw that she hadn’t even seen my message. Weird… she was normally so quick to respond to me, especially ever since Dominic bit me. She constantly watched me, waiting to see if I would turn, but I never did.

Now, though, there was nothing from her. Worried, I pressed the CALL button and put the phone to my ear. It rang several times before I heard her voice saying, Hi, you’ve reached Riley Black. Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m too busy off doing better things. Leave your name and number, and I might get back to you.

“Dammit,” I muttered as I slipped my phone into my back pocket. Delta tilted his head and whined softly, pushing his cold, wet nose into my neck.

I batted him away, stroking his ears as I tuned back in to the conversation. My dad and grandmother were no longer yelling at each other. They spoke much more softly now, and they both sounded exhausted.

My dad sighed heavily, and I could imagine him running his fingers through his hair in frustration. “I know she needs to learn everything,” he said. “But I don’t want her to know yet…”

“Want or not,” Gramma said softly, “you cannot keep this from her. She has a right to know.” There was a moment of silence, and then Dad murmured something so softly that I couldn’t hear him. Gramma’s response surprised me, causing me to gasp out loud when she said, “The magic inside her will kill her if we don’t release it. I will teach her how to use it, so that she does not lose control.”

I slapped one hand over my mouth, using the other to scoop Delta up. I backed away quickly, stumbling to my feet as I hurried to my room. I quickly shut the door behind me, not even bothering this time to stay quiet. I pulled my phone out and tried calling Riley again, but I got no answer. I swore furiously, throwing my phone onto my bed.

“What the hell, Rye?” I growled, pressing my back against the door. I slid down the wood until I was sitting on the floor, pulling my knees up to my chest. Delta whimpered, pressing himself against my side. I reached down and stroked him, shutting my eyes as I tried to calm down.

“What’s going on?” I asked out loud. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I got no response.

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